Pros: Shows the evolution of the Star Wars movies, script changes, and what Might Have Been
Cons: What more do you want? Pictures?
Yeah, that's right--Luke Skywalker was originally a girl. Not JUST the whiniest li'l Jedi this side of Tatooine, but an actual GIRL. Han Solo was a giant lizard, Jabba the Hutt a furry humanoid, Vader and Leia minor characters. At one point, George Lucas was considering casting all of the "good guys" with "little people"; at one point Luke and Leia were both Asian.
When did all this happen? About 1970. During the six years of fleshing out the characters and re-writes before Lucas started filming Star Wars in 1976, a LOT of changes happened, making the story a lot less complicated. After the characters were established and their storylines set up, the sequels to Star Wars became less convoluted and more streamlined. The process of how and why all of this happened can be found in "Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays" by Laurent Bouzereau.
Bouzereau gives us not only the screenplays as we know them, but gives us alternate lines--what the script HAD said at one point. He also gives us changes to the films AFTER their release--the Special Editions of 1997. There are background notes from George Lucas, Irvin Kershner (Directed Empire Strikes Back), Lawrence Kasdan (wrote Return of the Jedi), the artists, actors, and writers that have been involved in all three of the Original Star Wars Movies.
This book gave me a lot of insight into not just Star Wars, but the PROCESS of making a film. The seeds for Star Wars were planted in Lucas' mind decades before he made the movie--we get to see how he dredges up memories of Flash Gordon serials and focuses that through his love of Kurosawa's Samurai films and American Westerns.
Here are the insights I liked most that I've gotten from reading this book:
First, the things that have been a part of Star Wars from the Very First draft that Lucas wrote--the stuff that was included:
* An impregnable fortress (the Death Star) where a princess was held captive.
* Robots who would serve as the "common man's" point of view of the storyline.
* The names "Skywalker" and "Annikin" (later changed to "Anakin")
* The idea of The Force
* Darth Vader
* The Garbage Masher
* Desert/Snow/Forest planets
Perhaps the best idea Lucas had was a change from his first version--it was originally set in Earth's 33rd Century...by removing it to "Long, long, ago in a galaxy far away..." he removed any connection to Earth--we didn't have to worry about our governments and politics and armies and creatures--everything was different, and rightfully so. Opened up storytelling like few other Sci-Fi movies have been able to do.
The section covering "The Empire Strikes Back" had a lot of notes, including some great stuff about Darth Vader--this was the real look at what it's like to be the Dark Lord. They include a castle built of iron and surrounded by liquid lava, his relationship with the Emperor, demonic alien gargoyles that followed and served him....pretty cool, pretty different stuff from what we got. It also had him personally dismembering C-3PO and then crushing his droid heart with his own fist. Considering what we now know about Anakin having built Threepio back in the day, that would have been remarkably cool.
The idea of Cloud City was around in the very first draft of Star Wars, and we see that Lucas holds onto ideas he likes, and uses them in later films. So we may see that Iron Castle yet.
The romance between Luke and Leia was also going to be more developed in "Empire" than it ended up being; knowing what we know now about their siblial relationship, I'm glad they didn't go that way. There was enough of a love triangle as it was. "Next on Jerry Springer..."
Yoda's development was well-covered in the notes to the screenplays--the initial idea behind him was actually for him to be a giant--his evolution from that to the greenish blue muppet we all know and love is described by pages and pages of notes. Very cool.
The "Return of the Jedi" storyline underwent more changes than the "Empire Strikes Back" did...at one point there were two Death Stars, several planets and moons, and the characters also had more complicated storylines for them.
There were ideas and opportunities to kill off many of the main characters, including Lando at the Sarlaac Pit, Han in Jabba's Palace, and Luke on the Death Star. Lucas decided not to kill any of the leads--even though it would carry more surprise and emotional impact, Lucas thought that it would end the story of the trilogy on a sour note if any of the heroes died.
Originally, the Ewoks were all going to be Wookiees, like Chewbacca--which would have been very cool, but Lucas wanted the story to be about the triumph of nature over technology, and we had already seen that Chewie was advanced technologically--if he could fly a spaceship and fire a blaster, it wouldn't be an even match to have the Imperials against hundreds of 8-foot tall Wookiees.
So the Ewoks came in. Their development is also well covered; but the most interesting part of the "Jedi" section is the interactions between Luke, Vader, and the Emperor. It has several ways the story COULD have ended--including Luke killing Vader, and joining the Emperor on his Star Destroyer as the New Vader....then, in the closing moments of the film, Luke takes control of the Star Destroyer and Kamikazes it into the heart of the Imperial Capital Homeworld. Crazy stuff!
There's also a lot more lava and hidden fortresses and stuff--if there's anything I've learned from this book, it's that Lucas never drops an idea. If we look at the "what ifs" from the notes in the annotated screenplays, we see things that ended up in "The Phantom Menace", including underwater cities, the "city planet" Coruscant, the Victory Parade, and even the name "Valorum."
This is an excellent book for the hard-core Star Wars fan, but I think even casual fans would enjoy seeing the development of these movies. I think on the whole we're better off for the changes--but it's always intriguing to play the "what if" game.